Social media type tools have found their way into the workplace in the form of collaboration suites. Tools like Microsoft teams, Slack, and Confluence can increase communication frequency and create simple archives of documents, images, and even our conversations. While this can be a powerful thing, there’s also a dark side that can lead to individualism, isolation, and disengagement. I covered the potential pitfalls of collaboration tools in the previous post and what type of products we’re building to help. Here I want to focus on 3 things we’re doing in our workplace to offset the downside of some of these tools. 

At Mersive, we’re avid users of several collaboration platforms, it’s how we work and sometimes play (we have both music and book discussion channels that are active). But if you find yourself sitting at a desk lurking the ‘team chat’ channel and feeling more engaged with the latest thread about what snacks need to be purchased for the kitchen rather than your colleagues, you can be helped! 

Here are three simple ways to make your environment healthier and more engaged:

  1. Create Opportunities for Crossover to Other Tribes. Any company that is over 30 employees is too large to fit into a single tribe (click here for more info on optimal working group sizes). This means there are groups within your company that you probably don’t interact with often. It’s important that you create chances to run into those individuals on a semi-regular basis. We’ve done this at Mersive by placing resources that folks use in opposite corners of our space. We just purchased a pinball machine that many of the engineers were asking for. The game machine was placed in a conference room that’s closer to our marketing and finance teams than the engineers who requested it. Guess what? I’ve seen cross-functional communication of folks across teams that would never chat in a Slack channel discussing our 3.4 launch plan. Pretty cool.
  2. Introduce IRL (In-Real-Life) Meet-up Programs. The idea here is to find ways for small groups of random coworkers to interact on their own terms in the real world. I don’t mean those boring semi-mandatory company events either. To really combat digital distraction, you need to create new backdrops and create a completely different context to work. In these IRL settings, it’s amazing to see how mundane or cumbersome interactions between coworkers can be renewed and even reinvented. This is an easy thing to implement and can work wonders for creating real engagement and collaboration. I’d like to take credit for our IRL program here at Mersive, but our CEO, Rob Balgley, instinctively put together a plan that works great. Here’s how it works: every month we select a real world event; the opera, community theater, a concert at Red Rocks, a bike race, etc. We then purchase a small set of tickets of adjacent seats and we give them away on a first-come-first-serve basis. It’s not a company event, it’s an event where two employees and their spouses find themselves sitting next to one another in real life.
  3. Focus on “We” Space and Not “Me” Space. Individual working spaces are important, but individuals will define and create a space that works for them (please let them). Group spaces are different in that the responsibility of the group is to combat the individualism that can arise from digital distraction. These ‘we space’ areas should always serve multiple, flexible purposes. If the focus becomes one reason for a space to exist, then it will be doomed to become a version of ‘me’ space (think about dedicated teleconferencing rooms). If you were to visit Mersive, you’d find that we have a variety of huddle rooms, nooks, and crannies (not sure what that means ) – that support various ways to work as a group. Our (now semi-famous) ‘Orange Lounge’ is the birthplace of our Kepler analytics platform (there is a portrait of Johan Kepler hanging on the wall) but is often used by teams who need a casual 10 minute sit-down. Our ‘Blue Corner’ room is where our design team tends to work together, but it also doubles as a place to listen to the community turntable. Our ‘North Conference Room’ is used for, you guessed it, (video) conferencing. But it’s also where the pinball machine lives, and also where our twice a week yoga class takes place (the furniture is all mobile).

Take a quick look at your workplace environment, and your personal work style within it. These three simple ideas have helped us balance the benefits from digital communications and collaboration tools with their downsides. If you’re working in an industry that helps design, build, and support these spaces like I am – think about how you can help by designing spaces and programs that your teams collaborate better! 

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About Christopher Jaynes

Jaynes received his doctoral degree at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he worked on camera calibration and aerial image interpretation technologies now in use by the federal government. Jaynes received his BS degree with honors from the School of Computer Science at the University of Utah. In 2004, he founded Mersive and today serves as the company's Chief Technology Officer. Prior to Mersive, Jaynes founded the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, recognized as one of the leading laboratories for computer vision and interactive media and dedicated to research related to video surveillance, human-computer interaction, and display technologies.

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